Lawless, Sir Nicholas (1733–99), woollen draper, banker, MP, and 1st Baron Cloncurry , was born 30 October 1733, eldest son of Robert Lawless (d. 1775), woollen draper, of 2 High St., the Liberties, Dublin, and his wife Mary, daughter of Dominick Hadsor and widow of Robert Lawless's partner in trade (d. 1731). Boarding for several years at the catholic college of Rouen in Normandy, he graduated (1755) and returned to Dublin. Preferring first to aim at a place in the provincial French aristocracy rather than directly to commence partnership in the affluent family business, he returned to Normandy and purchased the manor of Château Galleville, outside Rouen, but refused to buy the largely redundant seigneurial privileges going with the property. This was an unwise economy (potentially devaluing regional estates) and his aristocratic neighbours treated him with disdain as an interloper and social climber. It seems that the former owners exercised one of their unsold rights by having executed criminals gibbeted next to the château.
He made the best of things at Château Galleville until 1767 when he took control of the High St. drapery on the retirement of his father, and set up residence in Merrion Square. For social reasons, in order nominally to disguise his source of income, the shop was vested in the name of his cousin Robert Lawless, who also undertook its day-to-day management. In 1767 he also replaced his father (in name and in practice) as partner in the private bank of Dawson, Coates, & Lawless (founded 1763) at 35–7 Thomas St., Dublin. In 1770 Coates & Lawless was one of the Dublin banks that combined to sustain the temporarily weakened credit of the large firm of Sir George Colebrooke & Co., in order to hold off the risk of a wider financial crisis. On 5 April 1773, in St Werburgh's, Dublin, he renounced catholicism and adhered to the Church of Ireland, claiming that experiences of clerical intolerance in France brought home to him the true nature of the church of Rome. A more likely motive is suggested by the fact that the conversion anticipated the purchase of the borough of Rathcormac, Co. Cork, which would have been vulnerable to an act of discovery under penal legislation had he remained a catholic.
Buying a seat for the borough of Lifford (owned by the earl of Erne) in May 1776, he entered parliament just as Westminster decided to offer titles to Irish supporters for the sake of political stability during the American war. His baronetcy was gazetted on 3 July 1776. It was said to have boosted his sense of self-importance to ridiculous heights. Though indeed never vocal on issues of parliamentary reform, he did not prove a wholly reliable ally of government. Simultaneous to his entry into politics he sold his Cork estate for a profit and purchased the Stepney estate of Abington, Co. Limerick, for £26,000. Although he built a country residence there c.1780, it was rarely used. From 1781 he hoped to achieve lasting recognition as a landed gentleman through the development of the Lyons estate, Co. Kildare, purchased in stages up to 1796. Though he ceased executive involvement in the bank of Coates & Lawless during the recession of 1778, he continued to invest large sums (well in excess of £40,000) as loans at interest to his personal account. Between 1780 and 1783 he was prominent in the campaign for the establishment of a national bank, and was appointed one of fifteen directors of the new Bank of Ireland (1783).
In April 1784 he decried in the Irish house of commons the injury to local manufactures caused by the import of fashionable clothing. He generally supported the government but was an infrequent speaker and his text was always brief and unadorned. His master passions were financial expertise and a hunger for the prestige of title; one did not perhaps sit well with the other, and he could not bring himself to spend outside his means in pursuit of the longed-for peerage. Seizing his chance during the regency crisis (November 1788–March 1789), he attempted to shore up resistance in the commons to the Patriot movement. In gratitude, the Pitt administration duly conceded his claims in return for the confidential payment of some £10,000 (approximately his annual income). Gazetted Baron Cloncurry in late September 1789, he was invested on 21 January 1790. It took several more years of stubborn self-promotion before he became aware that this was to be his upward limit. This may explain why in May 1797 he took the course of signing a requisition to the high sheriff of Kildare to call a meeting to petition the king to ‘dismiss his present ministers from his counsels for ever’ (Fitzpatrick, 52). He died 28 August 1799 at Maretimo, his residence in Blackrock, Co. Dublin. He is buried in Crumlin, Dublin.
He married (13 October 1761) Margaret, only daughter of Valentine Browne, brewer, of Mount Browne, Kilmainham, Co. Dublin. They had four daughters and two sons, including Valentine Browne Lawless (qv), who succeeded him as 2nd Baron Cloncurry.